Fees hike 'a huge gamble with future of young'

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The vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster has said he will try to keep student fees as low as possible in the face of the UK Government's decision to raise them to as much as £9,000.

Professor Richard Barnett accused the Government of "taking a huge gamble with the future of young people".

Other vice chancellors who welcomed the fees rise were indulging in "snout in the trough" politics, he said.

At Westminster, 323 MPs voted for raising tuition fees and 302 against.

The slim majority of 21 was greeted with muted cheers from the government benches on Thursday.

The move was opposed by all of Northern Ireland's sitting MPs.

The Russell Group which represents the UK's top universities and includes Queen's University, Belfast, has welcomed the fees rise, calling it "excellent value" for students.

Professor Barnett said he was not surprised and accused the Russell Group of elitism and "pure self interest".

"They do very little in terms of encouraging people from poorer backgrounds to come and benefit from higher education. Those things are so important to us at University of Ulster and so important in Northern Ireland.

"Instead they are taking rich kids from private schools where they have been paying massive fees and they know their students can pay these massive fees.

"It is snout in the trough politics from a small group of vice chancellors."

He said Northern Ireland was known for its skilled workforce.

"People come here because of our high skills and it is important that all sections of the community have access to high skills.

"It is important that we have a system that is accessible."

Professor Barnett said: I will keep our fees as low as possible, subject to us being able to provide a first class higher education to all of our students, especially those from poorer backgrounds."

On Thursday, the new minister for employment and learning warned that third level fees in NI were likely to rise.

Danny Kennedy said the Westminster vote would have a knock-on effect for NI.

It's understood Mr Kennedy is waiting to establish what his Assembly budget will be, before making any decision.

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